A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 321 – Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)

Bram Stoker’s Dracula – January 15th, 2011

Tonight, while looking through our list, Andy and I decided that tomorrow we would embark upon a rather long series. We toyed with the idea of starting it tonight, then looked at the movies’ lengths and mapped them to which days they’d fall and realized it wouldn’t work. And so we have the next two weeks planned, but we did not have tonight planned and so I said “How about Dracula?” and Andy said “Huh, sure. Why didn’t we watch this during our Keanu Reeves weekend?” I have no answer aside from forgetting he was in this, because, you see, I had not seen this movie prior to tonight. Indeed, this is probably another admission that might get my English degree revoked, but I’ve never read the book either.

I’ve always meant to read the book. It’s one of those things I have no good excuse for aside from simply never getting around to it. My college English lit classes were mostly modern literature, with only a few small ventures into earlier centuries (Shakespeare and Chaucer, most notably – my Victorian lit class was focused on material culture) and since then I tend to keep myself busy with work reading. But I like the idea of Dracula, told through articles and letters and transcribed interviews and the like. Epistolary writing can be really fantastic when done well, and I like the concept of tracking a story through multiple formats, as opposed to a single character’s diary. The trouble with a story told in this way is that it makes for a challenge when it comes to adaptation to a new medium. The format is so integral to the telling of the story that transferring it to a visual format such as film means losing much of its flavor and tone(s). A graphic novel might be better suited to the job. Just look at the original graphic novel for Watchmen. Now there’s some fantastic epistolary work, and the film adaptation had to do some fancy footwork to deal with the content from the novel chapters and psychiatric files and old photos. I think this is the source of Dracula’s major failings for me.

And yes, that means its major failings for me are not Dracula’s hair or Keanu Reeves’ performance. Yes, the hair is easy to poke fun at, and no, this isn’t Reeves’ best work, but the major issue I have is that the plot seems to meander and the transitions aren’t terribly smooth. Oh sure, the movie is fantastically over-dramatic and all, but I kind of would expect that. It’s Victorian. I expect swooning here and I expect shocking revelations and I expect everyone to be exaggerated. I expect melodrama and big dresses and big hats and this movie delivers on those counts. Unfortunately, while doing all that it also wanders in and out of various episodes in the plot, sometimes giving background, sometimes not, sometimes having things connect, sometimes not. And I can only assume that it comes from the content cleaving too closely to the written work, which, being composed of letters and other bits and pieces, would force you to skip from one piece of the story to the next. It’s a difficult thing, I would think, and I don’t think it was handled terribly well, which is frustrating.

The thing is, I enjoyed the movie quite a lot. Visually it’s a lovely piece of work, with lots of details and gorgeous costumes and fun camera tricks instead of the usual post-production special effects I’m used to. It was great to see so many in-camera effects used. I liked the cast (yes, even Keanu), especially Lucy’s three suitors and of course Gary Oldman as Dracula. I can’t honestly say how I feel about Winona Ryder as Mina, but I understand she’s the one who brought the script to Coppola, so it’s not like they were going to ditch her. She does a fine job, but every so often I felt a little thrown out of her scenes and I can’t put my finger on why. But really, I like the visuals, I like a lot of the acting, I like that the movie kept in a lot of characters who are, according to what I’ve read, often omitted or combined into one stand-in. As I said, I enjoyed watching it. But I freely acknowledge that it has flaws.

I’m not sure what I would do to fix my problems with the movie, to be honest. Were I taking a book done in this format and adapting it for the screen, I might end up doing the same things, and so I understand where it’s coming from. But it makes it feel a little sloppy, which is a shame. I like the portrayal of Dracula as a semi-sympathetic villain, and I liked the teamwork of Lucy’s three suitors. I liked a lot of the choices that were made. I just wish the narrative had either been thoroughly consistent or it had been more obvious in how it was drawing from its source, because other than that, this movie was a lot of fun.

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January 15, 2011 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , ,

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